by Jay Bookman, Georgia Recorder [This commentary first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
January 5, 2023
Brian Kemp has won a second term as governor without telling us what he wants to accomplish in that second term.
OK, that’s not quite true. Just by winning, he has already kept his biggest campaign promise, the promise that served as the basis of his entire re-election bid: “Stacey Abrams is not going to be our governor or your next president.” Beyond that, though, in terms of policy and governing, most Georgians today would have a hard time outlining what Kemp intends to do in these next four years.
Some of that is understandable. Kemp’s inauguration will mark the state’s sixth consecutive Republican administration, dating back to 2003. Over most of that stretch, the GOP has also dominated the state Legislature. A party that holds unchallenged power over that much time has pretty much enacted its ideological agenda, and there’s not much raw meat left to feed the base.
They’ve already gutted what remained of the state’s pitifully weak gun-safety laws. Abortion is now illegal after six weeks, although pro-life legislators will surely demand enactment of even more stringent restrictions, if not try to outlaw it altogether. The state’s tax code has been revamped to further favor the wealthy over the working class, and with the appointment of former Gov. Sonny Perdue as chancellor of the university system, the state’s higher education establishment is under tight rein. Corporate enticements such as the $1.5 billion subsidy for the Rivian electric-vehicle plant are also flowing freely.
And while Georgia is by no means a blue state or even a purple one, in the past two years Democrats have claimed the state’s 16 electoral votes for president and have won three statewide Senate races. The runoff margin for Raphael Warnock of plus 2.8 % and Kemp’s margin of plus 7.5 accurately bookends the political environment. It tells us that Democrats are still well short of parity with Republicans, but they’re now close enough to make Republicans pay for their political mistakes, whether that’s choosing a bad candidate or overreaching badly on policy.
For that reason, I think we’ll see Kemp and other GOP leaders reluctant to push controversial wish-list items such as tax-funded private-school vouchers, which would seriously undermine a state public-school system that is already underfunded by national standards.
Republicans also don’t want to address the real problems faced by Georgia – health care, loose gun laws, etc. — because they don’t like the solutions that would be required to solve them. For example, it’s ludicrous to keep rejecting Medicaid expansion ten years after passage of the Affordable Care Act. By saying yes, Kemp and his fellow Republicans could bring health insurance to another 500,000 Georgians, creating jobs and helping to save rural hospitals. (According to the American Hospital Association, 74% of rural hospital closures since 2010 have occurred in states that had so far refused to expand Medicaid.)
To enact Medicaid expansion, Georgia would have to spend $300 million annually, but doing so would bring in $3 billion in federal money each year. Refusing to take a 10-1 return on investment that would also improve health, save lives and ease suffering of our fellow Georgians is not leadership, it’s sheer stubborn cussedness.
Besides, it’s so much easier and less risky to invent fake problems than to fix real ones. For example, Kemp has recently hinted at a “tough-on-crime” legislative package, complaining that “Far-left local prosecutors are failing their constituents and making our communities less safe.” That’s just false. Whatever our crime problems, they’re not a product of “far-left prosecutors” unwilling to toss crooks in jail.
In the first place, those prosecutors are elected by their local constituents and are answerable to those constituents, not to the governor.
Furthermore, let’s look to the data, shall we?
As a country, the United States imprisons 358 people per 100,000 population, according to statistics compiled by The Sentencing Project. That’s one of the highest rates in the developed world.
Here are the comparable data for Georgia and its surrounding states:
South Carolina: 304
North Carolina: 271
Georgia imprisons significantly more people per capita than most of the country and all of its neighbors. Overall, it ranks 8th overall in that category. So no, “far-left prosecutors” are not the problem, and pointing the finger at local officials is a transparent attempt by state officials to evade responsibility for their own failings.
We’ve seen that tactic employed by conservatives elsewhere, with accusations that gay Americans are “grooming” children for abuse, that public education is riddled with anti-white bias, that drag shows are a menace to morality. It’s apparently what you do when you run dry of ideas that might actually help people. The only thing more dangerous than a politician with an agenda is a politician without an agenda.
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